Friday, April 27, 2012

Noteworthy Artist: The Civil Wars

Ok, where has this band been, or where have I been that I only just found them? I'm having uncontrollable love for their music. The style and sound is phenomenal! Authentic American folk undertones entwine around gorgeous, heartfelt often heartbreaking melodies to create powerful songs. The minimalism of this band is deceptive, because each tune is layered with so much brilliant use of tone, phrasing, lyrics, and harmony that the effect is undeniably powerful. It's the kind of soothing music that makes you wish for a rainy day and a window to gaze out. It's not a band for hip-hop lovers or Top 20 billboard followers, but for those music lovers that embrace a little bit of "off the beaten path", free-flowing, indie style tunes, you too will probably adore the music of The Civil War.

The band consists of Joy Williams and Alabama born John Paul White. Williams is predominantly known for her extremely successful career in the Christian music circuit before joining up with White. No, they aren't a couple, but they sing like they are for sure. The charasmastic connection between this duo won them two Grammys this year for Best Folk Album and Best Country/Group Performance. Well deserved, I'd say! Despite winning these prestigious awards, the two keep it simple. They travel without a backup band and flesh out songs with bare minimum acoustics, and perhaps it's because of this that they produce music so powerful in it's simplicity. Their cover of "Want you Back" is nothing short of stunning. I also love their song "Safe & Sound" with Taylor Swift, which is on the soundtrack for The Hunger Games. I really care for Taylor Swift (despite her extreme talent, I'm over her sappy breakup/get together love songs), but I choose to deliberately ignore the fact that she's connected to the song. Moral of the story: I was completely won over. It's pure Americana, exquisiteness.

I've featured a handful of their songs on a previous blog post, but here are some additional music videos to check out:

"Safe & Sound" (featuring Taylor Swift)

The Girl With the Red Balloon (Live)


"Want You Back" (Live)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Spotlight On Concerts: Ingrid Michaelson

Indie music lovers, this ones for you! Ingrid Michaelson is doing a concert at Southside Music Hall on May 2nd here in the DFW area. I'm crazy about Ingrid Michaelson, and I've loved her amazing indie pop/folk music since a friend introduced me to her music back in the day. She's become big with the artsy-indie crowd, but her music has a wide range of fans. If you're not familiar with her, you should definitely jump on board and join the fan club, because you'll want to add her music to your collection. Her lyrics are versatile and beautifully written, covering a gamete of situations that are relevant to all listeners.

Her songs will probably sound familiar to you, because she's been featured as the perfect soundtrack for shows like Grey's Anatomy, One Tree Hill, and many of other shows on numerous occasions. Her sound is whimsical, endearing, and filled with a delightful beauty that honors the simple things in life. One of the things I love love love about her music are the phenomenal lyrics that are woven through each song. Insightful and thought provoking, her music does more than merely entertains: it tells us a message.

For more information, check out South Side Music Hall, and make sure you purchase tix! For all of you not in DFW, you can check out Ingrid's tour dates here.

"I don't believe in anything but myself

But then you opened up a door, you opened up a door
Now I start to believe in something else,

But how do I know if I'll make it through?How do I know? Where's the proof in you?

And so it goes, this soldier knows the battle with the heart isn't easily won

And so it goes, this soldier knows

I don't wanna sit on the pavement while you fly
But I will, I will, oh yes I will
'Cause maybe in the future, you're gonna come back
You're gonna come back around
Maybe in the future you're gonna come back
You're gonna come back
Oh, the only way to really know is to really let it go...

Have you ever thought about what protects our hearts? 
Just a cage of rib bones and other various parts, 
And  we are so fragile, and our cracking bones make noise. 
And we are just breakable, breakable, breakable girls and boys.

"Keep Breathing"

The battle with the heart isn't easily won...but it can be won."

Monday, April 23, 2012

New Album: Alabama Shakes 'Boys & Girls"

When it comes to Indie music, I can't get enough of the band Alabama Shakes. Hitting it right and doing it big in their debut album "Boys & Girls", the Alabama Shakes is quickly becoming a new favorite. Their blues-based rock contains just the right combination of swank and soul. It's that rare album that makes you want to sit on a back porch somewhere with a glass of iced tea and just soak in an evening. One of the things I truly enjoy about the band is their music has a strong vintage blues flavor that is all head-nodding, toe-tapping goodness. And this band isn't digital studio cover nonsense. They're amazing musicians to hear live, as evidenced by their huge success at SXSW. 

Lead singer Brittany Howard doesn't just sing, she can sang, I mean belt it out in true-blue feel it from within kinda singing. I love it. Love it, love it! Her uninhibited passion makes each song a powerful display of music, but she never strays from being relatable and down to earth. This band is starting to gain considerable buzz as more and more critiques are jumping on board with their laid back sound. MTV named Alabama Shakes as one of 11 Artists to Watch in 2012.  As with most newer bands, this group still has a lot of styles mixed in with their overall sound as they settle down on their own unique sound. The undertones of their album has influences of rock, soul, roots rock, and even a dash of country. 

"Hold On"

"You Ain't Alone"

"I Found You"

"Boys & Girls"

"Hang Loose"

pictures from:

Friday, April 20, 2012

What's That Song???

I've had quite a few people ask me what the song is for the Internet Explorer commercial. They're loving the sound and have been trying to track down info about it.  While I am no Google search engine or music ID app, I do like vaguely staying in the know with new songs and artists, so I just happen to know the artist whose song is featured on the new commercial. Yes, I Googled it, I cannot tell a lie. But now I'm passing this info on to you!

So, in case you were in the dark, the song is called "Too Close" by Alex Clare. (I would probably like it even more if I weren't about 10,000 shades of happy and in love, but I'm still digging this tune! I'll save it for a day when my man and I get into a fight or something, ha!) Fun facts about Clare: he's a British ginger kid (I have some brands of SPF I should recommend to him) who grew up listening to his father's jazz band. He's been influenced by The Fugees, Stevie Wonder, and Donny Hathaway. 

The song "Too Close" has a great style with a powerful electronic mix that's definitely ear-catching, so check it out and see what you think! My conclusion: I like this ginger's music (and I'm thinking he's been in less than awesome relationships based on his music!) And, just because I like you, I threw in "Up All Night" for good measure. You're welcome. I understand, I'm a music junkie too.

"Too Close"

"Up All Night"

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Music Fix Monday: Tasty Sampler of Good Tunes

I'm probably a little obsessive compulsive. I like things ridiculously organized and uber tidy...I know, I know...very uncharacteristic of a musician.  So yes, I have OCD, which I have noooo intention of correcting, but instead will impose said disorder on everyone without shame ["Oh, would you like some germ-x? No? Just a nice side of e coli to go with that sandwich then? Sounds yummy!"]. Due to my clutter phobia [the scariest thing EVER is the show Hoarders, I kid you not], the only things I collect are books and music, and I gather those up, well, obsessively. Or compulsively, depending on the day.

I came across these songs through a couple of friends who do music right. Since they have great taste in music, I'm always pretty confident they won't let me down. True to form, I really enjoyed these songs and I'm adding them to my musical collection. See how you like them for just might want to add them to your collection:) PS I'm absolutely in love with The Civil Wars. They're so heartfelt, intimate and beautiful, that I absolutely can't get enough of this great band!

Elisa "One Step Away"

Elisa "Love Is Requited"

The Civil Wars "Falling"

The Civil Wars "Poison & Wine"

The Jezabels "City Girl"

The Jezabels "Deep Wide Ocean"

Ambassadors "Unconsolable"

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New Album Review: Jason Mraz's "Love Is a Four Letter Word"

While I favor a range of music so diverse it seems almost contradictory, I have a particular penchant for music that's produced by singer-songwriters. Maybe it's because meaningful lyrics win me over, or maybe it's because I'm a bit of a talent enthusiast, but I think that albums that are both written and sung by the same person display consummate musicianship, that extra degree of expertise and raw musical ability. As a music lover, I adore the personal edge attached to these songs. The music flows a bit like a conversation and reaches my heart in 2.5 seconds or less.

When it comes to singer-songwriters, Jason Mraz has caught my ear since his arrival on the scene in the early 2000's. His acoustic-infused sound has always been refreshing and great easy listening music. "Mraz's international breakthrough came with the release of the single "I'm Yours" from the album We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things. The single peaked at number six on the Billboard Hot 100, giving Mraz his first top ten single. The song was on the Hot 100 for 76 weeks and receiving a 5x platinum certification from the RIAA for sales of over five million." And yes, that is a direct quote from Wikipedia, because this isn't a research paper and I can site whatever I want. I go to Wikipedia for everything. It's like my lifeline in an unofficial game of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. (And don't pretend Wikipedia isn't a major source of knowledge for you...we all know it's like the cliff notes to life so just accept it;)  

So when it comes to singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, how has this artist developed over time, and has he stayed true to his style in his latest album? Keeping much of his same sound, while mixing in new styles, Mraz infuses his songs with a great deal of personal meaning and emotion. The theme of his album revolves around love, which is not surprising since he wrote it while getting engaged and then breaking off the engagement with fellow singer-songwriter Tristan Prettyman. What is surprising is that the album "Love Is A Four Letter Word" celebrates love as something we all need to give and receive, without tones of bitterness or disappointment, but rather heartfelt appreciation and insight. 

As for the style, he still stays true to the simple acoustic sound we recognize from his original albums, but he expands the sound with more instruments and a bluesy edge. It's not your everyday, generic sound, and this is just one of the things that sets Mraz apart from so many other musicians. "I Won't Give Up" is possibly one of my favorite songs from the album. It's beautiful and heartfelt, and packs a great deal of meaning with pure, uncluttered, acoustic sounds. 

Do I recommend "Love Is a Four Letter Word"? Yes, especially for music lovers who appreciate songs with quality lyrics or musicians who aspire to write their own songs and who are looking for a lighter toned album. It's the perfect background track for driving around town with the windows down and soaking up a relaxing, sunny day or for enjoying truly well written lyrics when you need music with a message.

"I Won't Give Up"


"Who's Thinking aboutYou Now?"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spotlight On Concerts: Edgefest 2012

In case this isn't obvious, I hereby confess: I'm a music fanatic. I love it all, but live music absolutely slays me. There's something about the experience that's raw, real, and entirely relatable as you feel and connect to a song with a crowd of complete strangers. That's something you just can't get with an iPod and even the best speakers in town. Since I have this live music fettish, it should come as no surprise that I like staying in the know about all that's the latest, greatest, and note-worthy on the musical circuit. Since DFW Piano Lessons provides lessons to all age groups, I enjoy sharing reviews on concerts and music events to my more mature students or the parents of my younger ones. Hint hint, this post isn't intended for younger, more impressionable music lovers.

This year, Edgefest 22 has a spectacular line up that I'm wildly excited about hearing live. Because I heart you, here's a run down of some of my favorite artists and a little sample of their music. I know, get excited. This is happening! 

Black Keys: Um, what's not to love about this band? I am car-aazy enthusiastic when it comes to their garage rock revival style music. The blues-meets-American rock meshes so perfectly, I've yet to hear a song of theirs that I don't think, "That was an awesome song. Repeat!"

Black Keys "Gold on the Ceiling"

Garbage: Not to set back the feminist movement or anything, but there aren't many women who can pull off bad-attitude b***h band music. Garbage not only can and does, but has been doing so for a long time. And true to the fairer (possibly more fabulous sex), the lyrics are meaningful and pack a big hit in each song. 

Garbage "Blood for Poppies"

Evanescence: I have a not-so-secret love for gothic/punk music. I've loved this band for, oh, ages and ages. True, "My Immortal" and all the other fabulously dark, moody songs that lend themselves to writing many heartfelt journal entries and brooding with other gothicy/punky peeps, but no music lover could ever deny the band does this style of music right. I've always had a special spot on my music list for them since my only semi-brooding teen years, and still have them on my playlist to this day, which I think is entitled: Dark & Moody. Or it should be.

Evanescence "My Heart Is Broken"

Cake: Thank goodness for bands that are willing to do their own thing, create their own sound, and own it. Consummate artists of the alternative genre, Cake has a number of tracks that infuse a mix of sounds ranging from a bit of Big Band Swing, funk, to even Iranian folk music. It's nothing short of innovation at its best. Intrigued? Of course you are.

Cake "Short Skirt/Long Jacket"

Cage the Elephants: I like unpredictable bands, and this group is exactly that. They've produced music that's distinctly them and uniquely enjoyable, which is a combination I go for ever time. They make "snazzy tunes", or so I've been told by those who know. And yes, snazzy is a word. I just searched it for you. Helpful AND educational, that's the way I blog.

Cage the Elephants "Aberdeen"

The Ting Tings: Red heads are sassypants. So are the Ting Tings, so it surprises me the group isn't made up entirely of red heads, but [allegedly and according to pics on the internet---which makes it 100% reliable] none of this all female band are fellow foxy reds. Who cares. They know how to rock some serious sass in a fabulous punk-pop kind of way.

The Ting Tings "That's Not My Name"

Civil Twilight: I really enjoy this alternative-rock band. With a the musical edge that's granted only to true singer-songwriters, this power trio rocks produces tracks that stay true to the heart of rocking it out. With a style similar to Muse, Needtobreathe, Mutemath, and other rockers who haven't forgotten how to jam and don't suffocate their music with artificial, studio produced tracks, this group is one I heart. 

Civil Twilight "Letters from the Sky"

But guess what? That's not all! Want to know the complete list of performers? Here it is:

The Black Keys
Band info and videos

Band info and videos

Band info and videos

Cage the Elephant
Band info and videos

Arctic Monkeys
Band info and videos

Neon Trees
Band info and videos

Civil Twilight
Band info and videos

Band info and videos

Band info and videos

Band info and videos

Blue October
Band info and videos

The Ting Tings
Band info and videos

Foxy Shazam
Band info and videos

Dead Sara
Band info and videos

The Features
Band info and videos

Band info and videos

Read more:

Saturday, April 7, 2012

How to (Really) Listen to Music

So you're a music fanatic and you can't get enough music? You're in good company...neither can we! The great thing about music is you don't have to have any training or an advanced level of expertise to enjoy listening to it. Like any art though, knowing how to approach it can make your experience that much better. I really encourage my students to not just hear music, but really listen to it with an educated ear. Some people call this music appreciation; let's be clear, it's completely different from being a music critic or, as I like to call it, being way too posh for you're own good. Critically listening to music does require an educated or well-cultivated ear, but it completely takes away from the experience. 

And beware! As you delve into your musical training more and more, it's way too easy to become too posh for your own good! You'll learn a great deal and might get tempted to start listening to other people's performances with a critical ear like other professional/non-professional music critics. These people (really) listen to music and take it all in, but they're usually listening for the flaws in a song. They expect to walk away unsatisfied. Guess what? They usually experience exactly that: unsatisfying performances riddled with flaws. They end up missing out on what music really can offer.

Remember: listening to music with an overly critical ear can and probably will rob you of the uninhibited joy that comes from being swept into a song. Listening with a keen ear will help train your musical senses and help you absorb a song even better. I believe in teaching my students how to both appreciate music and really listen to it so they can take in as much of a song as possible. I tell them to go to concerts, symphonies, jazz series and other musical events to get tons of exposure. To get the most out of the experience, I give them a short list of how to (really) listen to music and make the experience even better.

1. Identify the genre you're listening to. What do you know about the time period? Jazz from the roaring 20's has a whole different flavor from today's jazzy tunes, because culture and history get time stamped onto our music. What do you know about the composer? Realizing Mozart was just five when he started writing symphonies adds an interesting story to what you're hearing. Compositions are like letters or diary entries. When you know that Beethoven wrote his last symphony without being able to hear a single note, while living in solitude due to his deafness, it creates a sense of intrigue that he chose the triumph of joy despite his circumstances, thus dedicating his final symphonic work to joy itself and all that is good in life. This helps you relate to music.

2. Listen for patterns, repetition, and variation. Apply the musical technique you know. Do you recognize phrases, intervals, any particular theory that's applied to the song? Let this come together like a giant musical patchwork quilt. It will help you see music, not just hear it.

3. Listen for color, texture, balance and rhythm. What is the tone like? Bright, happy, sad? Is the melody smooth, layered with harmony, abrupt, using staccatos? How does the composer balance out contrasting phrases? Is the rhythm controlled, syncopated, even? This helps you feel music. 

4. Ask yourself how the piece makes you feel. What mental pictures does it create in your mind? Let music take you to a deeper place. Self-awareness is crucial to truly appreciate all the many layers of a song. Let yourself realize how it speaks to you. Even though a song is played with the same notes, it will sound a little different to each individual person listening. The personal message won't be the same to you as it is to me. (Really) listening to music is a completely individualistic process, and that's just one of the many things that makes music wonderful. This helps you connect to music, and that's what it's all about. Don't walk away from a musical experience unmoved or unchanged as a musician. Music has the potential to teach us and show us wonderful things if we only (really) listen.

Pictures taken from:

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spring Fling: Outdoor Concerts

Listening to: The Cave by Mumford & Sons

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens may be a few of my favorite things, but spring is at the absolute tip top of the list. What's not to love? Great weather, that perfect shade of new leaf green, long patio session with friends and of course: FREE OUTDOOR CONCERTS! It's a great date night, family evening out, or a fun way to relax with friends. 

Mockingbird Station hosts free concerts every first and third Thursday of the month. On a slightly more casual note, AT&T Performing Arts Center has Patio Sessions each Thursday from 5:30-7:30, which is a free music series pairing with great music with a game of competitive outdoor ping pong. Since my ping pong skills are ninja awesome, you can bet you'll see me there. But wait! There's more! (How lucky for you that I've scoped out a bunch of outdoor concerts! Kidding! But seriously.) Watters Creek has a Creekside Concert series featuring the Briefcase Blues, a band which is a mix of comedy and music. Perhaps one of the better outdoor concerts experiences are at the Dallas Arboretum. Albeit, these concerts aren't free, but they're extremely inexpensive and overlook White Rock Lake and a gorgeous array of flowers. If you think that sounds like the perfect recipe for romance, you're probably not the only one thinking along those lines...but there's a great mix of people that attend. 

So get your spring fling music fix and enjoy the 2.5 seconds of delightful weather which Texas calls spring. Trust me, summer loving and the 110 degree heat will come all too soon!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Autobiography of the Month: Ludwig van Beethoven

Listening to: Beethoven's 9th Symphony (Fourth Movement)

Solomon Maynard writes a collection of masterful autobiographies. Rich with well-researched details, insight, and little known facts, Maynard introduces us to composers like never before. By far my favorite autobiographical writer, Maynard writes with thoughtful emotion while never straying from historical facts. One of his greatest works is is autobiographical sketch of Ludwig van Beethoven. "Hailed as a masterpiece for its original interpretations of Beethoven's life and music, this edition takes into account the latest information and literature. Includes a 30-page bibliographical essay, numerous illustrations, and a full-color pictorial biography of the composer."

Beethoven is unlike any composer that ever lived, and he is rightfully considered to be one of the greatest, if not THE great composer of all time. In addition to composing the the overwhelming majority of his music without being able to hear a single note he wrote, he also shattered the format of music and revolutionized the musical scene. Before Beethoven, music was very systematic and written in a precise A-B-A-C format. It was pretty and contained, completely restricted from unleashing the emotions that music sets free. Perhaps it was because Beethoven was deaf and couldn't hear what was vogue, or perhaps it was because this great composer is notorious for bucking the system and doing things his way, but he reinvented the way music was both played and listened to. His songs were written to express specific emotion, paint images with sound, and reach out and communicate the things that words cannot convey. Shut out from the world and completely misunderstood and often rejected, he poured his anguish, triumph, and unbreakable spirit into his works, and for this, we call him the Immortal Composer.